View Full Version here: : Public asked to define a galaxy

23-01-2011, 02:07 AM
How would you define a galaxy:question:
This is the question being asked by two astronomy professors.

It should be an interesting exercise:thumbsup:

23-01-2011, 02:21 AM
Interesting Pluto debate again. They already change Pluto to a Dwarf Planet, and they Dwarf Galaxies this time I think they could leave it as it is.

23-01-2011, 07:20 AM
To the average person a "Galaxy" just defines something large be it stars, information or anything else of large quantity.

When it comes to the universe and galaxies I would not expect more than 30% of the world to know what you are talking about.


23-01-2011, 09:47 AM
Here we go, another pointless exercise in the 'democratisation' and trivialisation of science, and another nail in the coffin of scientific principle. My tax dollar pays for scientists to do their stuff (and I wish they would be given a bigger slice of it) and I'd like to think they're getting on with it, not dreaming up schemes like this. What on earth would I have to add to the argument of what a galaxy is, regardless of what I think I might know or how interested I am?

A lot has been said about science being very good at its job but very poor in communicating results to the rest of us, but this does nothing to remedy that and sets dangerous precedents. :)

Cheers -

23-01-2011, 10:35 AM

Sadly I must agree with you. This "democratisation" of science is a bit like politicians holding, say, a 2020 summit.

Let those who know what they are doing do it, and let those who don't know what they are doing, but would like to, go to university and learn how.


23-01-2011, 11:11 AM
C'mon Guys;

This is ya big chance to have a say about it all !

Here's the how to decide on it paper. (http://arxiv.org/abs/1101.3309) (Its not a bad summary of the 'ins & outs', actually).

I seem to recall voting on Pluto's status in a General Chat thread (started by Warren). The scientific, uncaring types (like myself ;) ), won in the end, but there are definitely others out there who want to have a say. Clearly, its not as straightforward as it may seem .. so there's plenty to learn from the exercise.

Ron: Maybe this thread should go in the General Chat Section, eh ? (Up to the mods, now I guess).



23-01-2011, 11:19 AM
.. and oh yes

And here is the voting URL (http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/WLRJMWS) (for those willing to have a go).


23-01-2011, 11:38 AM
Sometimes you worry me Craig! ;) Apparently the next vote is on whether comets are dirty snowballs or balls of plasma, followed by a definitive vote on whether evolution or creation is the true mechanism for the existence of man. Can't wait! :lol:

Cheers -

23-01-2011, 12:02 PM
Don't worry about me … I'm nobody important …

The issue is (once again) about definitions and terminology. Meaning in generally spoken mainstream language has evolved, and continues to evolve, based on the popularity of usage, so I see nothing different here.

Also, have a ponder about what difference the outcome of the vote actually makes. Its hardly going to change any of the Science.

What it will do, is give people a closer relationship to Astronomical matters, which is good for Science and directly contributes towards alleviating the perception that scientists are arrogant weirdos who live in ivory towers.

In the context of present day criticism of science, this aspect more than justifies the approach.


23-01-2011, 12:24 PM
Well said Stuart.

23-01-2011, 12:34 PM
And what do we do with those who don't know what they are doing, and wouldn't like to go to university, and still want to have their say ? Ie: the vocal, uninformed majority who ultimately influence funding ?

And who says anyone has control over this ?


23-01-2011, 12:36 PM
Craig, the big difference is that language is a democracy. And since when are scientists perceived as arrogant weirdos who live in ivory towers? People mightn't understand what they do, but hey, I don't understand what a solicitor or merchant banker or CEO does. This attitude prevails only on the web as far as I can see, in places like the EU, who would like to spread this stuff like a cancer wherever they can gain a platform for their views (sadly, IIS). There are communication problems no doubt, but there are much more constructive ways of addressing that. Now a poll on that topic would be valuable! :P

If I was to cast a vote on the galaxy poll, it would mean that I personally felt my opinion was valuable to professional astronomers working hard in the field. Which it ain't. Obviously you feel yours is, so we agree to differ. :shrug:

Hopefully the whole thing is just a misguided attempt, and will die a natural death.

Cheers -

23-01-2011, 12:47 PM
How have I made it obvious ? .. I'm intrigued !!


23-01-2011, 01:02 PM
Have their say in what? The orbital characteristics of eclipsing binaries? Variations in the Cosmic Background Radiation? Methinks you might be pulling our legs here Craig! Science is of course accountable, but this is vastly different to participation.

Why else would you vote? :)

Cheers -

23-01-2011, 01:33 PM
I am looking at this objectively and find there does need to be some sort of classification, The abstract is well worded. For scientific purposes there needs to be a clear and distinct classification to clearly define what is what they are seeing but 1 major concern.

Dark Matter is mentioned many times throughout the paper yet Dark Matter is not measurable by physical or observable means only by mathematical assumptions that something exist and yet Dark Energy has no mention in this paper. There are some aspects that are a bit over my head so I would at this stage called an in-betweener. But isn't it possible to classify all of these as galaxies except different classes of galaxies so they can be define. To keep it There are 5 primary conditions they are asking for, why not 5 classes of galaxies. Seems simple, All except for Dark Matter can be measured. Although they are considering multiple minimum conditions which means there could be as much as 25 types of galaxies although not practical.

This last measure is a concern that has been growing over many years that Dark Matter is a assumed measurable substance. Maybe they leave that as a potential type of galaxy class until the measurable.

Unfortunately Dark Matter to the general public is measurable, I used to be general public. The way it was talk about when I was a bit more Joe Public is they could measure it physically.

Although Pluto was unavoidable for which I agree with the finding, Galaxies can at this stage be tampered with while still being seen by the general public as a galaxy.

The survey though is a bit iffy. Not sure I like the simplicity based on a very complex paper (to the Joe Public).

23-01-2011, 01:35 PM
There is a subtlety required when dealing with human beings.

We all like to feel that we have access to decision making processes, especially when we are made to feel responsible for allocation of funding.

To vote, one requires knowledge of the issues at stake.

The learning process leading to casting a vote, benefits everyone in the long run.

These matters can be separated from the processes followed in performing science (including astronomy).


23-01-2011, 02:10 PM
Craig, unlike yourself (according to your own post), I did care about Pluto, but must admit that, at least according to the definition of a planet from the Astro Union, Pluto does not fit the bill.

None the less, allowing members of the public to decide scientific questions is like allowing members of the public to vote on whether a virus should be re-classified as a bacterium. The thing is, very clearly viruses share all but nothing in common with bacteria. In fact, there is debate as to whether viruses are even alive at all.

Allowing a public "gallup poll" to decide the definition of a galaxy is valuable only for entertainment value. But there is no scientific value at all.

Things are gradually drying out here in QLD. Hope the Victorians are doing the same!


23-01-2011, 02:27 PM
The issue of what makes a group of stars a galaxy is an important one. With earlier observations, mostly larger galaxies were seen and general size and structure (core and spiral arms or elliptical symmetry) left little ambiguity. However, with the increasing discovery of smaller dwarf-type galaxies, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to determine between say a large globular and a small mass galaxy.
Dwarf galaxies were thought to have several billion stars, which still exceeds a large globular of several million stars. However, the globular cluster omega Centauri of some 5 million stars is considered a possible remnant core of a stripped satellite galaxy.
With the discovery of smaller satellites such as Willman 1, it is becoming more important to differentiate between structures which are either a globular or a low-mass galaxy. Willman 1 has been estimated to have as few as half a million suns.

Correct theories of evolution of the galaxy and its satellites have to account for the different modes of origin of different structures.
The paper is an interesting approach to involve non-professional people in research and discussion and could present some new insights. However, in the final analysis, it is up to the experts or professional to decide on the working criteria of a definition of a galaxy, which will probably change over time as new information comes to light.

Regards, Rob

23-01-2011, 02:34 PM
I am afraid that we are going to need to bow to public opinion in all matters scientific now. It is a matter of money for research.

Science is paid for out of the public purse. This is controlled by polititians Who are interested in votes not science. If the scientists do not toe the political line they get no funding. A sorry state of affairs.

We will probably end up with the astrologists definition of a galaxy rather than the astronomical definition.


23-01-2011, 02:38 PM
I'd like to reassert my view that this is clearly about managing perceptions
The upside of this is giving the public closer relationships with Astronomical matters, which is good for Science, and directly contributes towards alleviating the misperceptions about scientists.

In the long-run, I feel that what's at stake is public support for science funding !!

There's your value .. right there !!

To proceed in any aspect of science without due consideration being given to managing public perceptions, is ultimately risky strategy and supports the growth of pseudoscience and research bankruptcy.


23-01-2011, 02:54 PM
I would support the view that the majority of those participating in the survey would have a reasonable knowledge of astronomy. Those not interested in astronomy wouldn't even bother reading the article nor get as far as the survey. Many amateurs would have an in depth knowledge of a lot of the current research on galaxies and would have something to contribute. It must be remembered that many professional astronomers don't specialise in areas related to galactic origins and their input would have no more value than a well-informed amateur. In fact, without a clear cut definition, the professionals would probably welcome some new insights.
As I said before, insights may be gained and positives arise from non-professional involvement. But in the final analysis, the professionals will decide and re-modify as new observational evidence is forth-coming.

Regards, Rob

23-01-2011, 05:24 PM

Perhaps my statement of "there is no scientific value at all" was a little unfair. :( I agree wholeheartedly with you that getting the public involved with astronomy or indeed any branch of science is a good thing. If getting the public involved (and "the public" certainly includes me because, after all, what is my contribution to astronomy? I am just someone with a deep interest and curiosity but certainly not someone with the knowledge to be making serious scientific decisions) can be done via what I described as a gallup poll, then that is a good thing. However, I don't think that my opinion or those of people with my level of understanding of astronomy should be counted when it comes to decision time.

Rob, I also agree with you that "Many amateurs would have an in depth knowledge of a lot of the current research on galaxies and would have something to contribute." But I know enough to know that I do not know enough to participate in the final decision making process. (Hmm, confused by that? I am! :))

Regarding managing public perceptions, it starts with schools teaching science and having teachers who are excited about their subject. This in turn requires interest from governments in providing funding for specialist science teachers even at primary level, and especially at secondary and tertiary levels. It also comes from museums making science accessible and interesting. It comes from people like Robin Williams of ABC radio who used to (still does?) do the Science Show at 12.30 on a Saturday afternoon; a very informative and entertaining radio show. Same goes for Dr Karl Kruszelnicki. It also comes down to people like the members of little, local astronomy groups doing public viewings and also school nights.

A lack of learning about science is certainly what fosters the growth of ignorance, pseudoscience and religion.